The New York Giants have revamped their secondary this offseason after the unit performed rather inconsistently throughout the 2022 season. One of the biggest changes in the defensive backfield will be the absence of veteran safety Julian Love. New York lost Love in free agency this offseason after he signed a two-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks. The departure of Love leaves the Giants with a big question mark at the strong safety position entering the 2023 season.
Who will be the Giants’ strong safety in 2023?
Many analysts expected the Giants to fill their need at strong safety in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, New York did not address the position in their well-regarded draft class. They did draft a safety, Gervarrius Owens, in the seventh round, however, the Houston product was a free safety/cornerback in college and does not project as a strong safety at the next level.
New York also has Dane Belton on the roster. The second-year player out of Iowa totaled 400 snaps on the Giants’ defense as a rookie last season. Belton played an even mix of his snaps between free safety and strong safety and could be gunning for the starting job in the box. He did struggle as a rookie, though, ranking 88th out of 88 safeties in the NFL with a 30.6 Pro Football Focus grade.
The Giants also signed veteran defensive back Bobby McCain this offseason, however, he has spent the majority of his career playing slot cornerback and free safety. He is unlikely to start at strong safety.
Jason Pinnock is also still on the roster after being claimed off waivers midway through last season. But he also primarily lines up as a free safety and will unlikely be able to win the starting strong safety job.
Could Xavier McKinney make the position change?
Ultimately, the Giants have two real options: bank on Dane Belton to develop his young talent while starting at strong safety or move Xavier McKinney into that role.
McKinney, one of the Giants’ best defensive players, has been the team’s starting free safety for the past two seasons. He does, however, have the traits and talent level necessary to play the strong safety position. McKinney is an excellent man-defender and tackler in run defense. If New York is not confident in Belton being able to make the position switch, McKinney may have to.
Moving McKinney to strong safety would allow Belton, McCain, and Pinnock to all compete for the starting free safety job. Or the three candidates could rotate and play the position as a committee.
McKinney has been stellar for the Giants from the free safety position. This might make the team hesitant to switch his position. However, that will leave the team hoping that Belton takes a huge leap forward in his second season while learning a new position. Ultimately, strong safety will be one of the top positions to keep an eye on entering training camp this summer.